February 6, 2013Appointed by Mayor Koch, Dr. Hirsch Modernized DNA Technology and Led City's Groundbreaking Efforts to Identify 9/11 Remains
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg today announced the retirement of Dr. Charles Hirsch, who has served as New York City’s Chief Medical Examiner since 1989. Appointed by Mayor Edward I. Koch after a board of distinguished physicians conducted a nationwide search, Dr. Hirsch revitalized the agency and remade the Office of the Medical Examiner, installing modern autopsy and office facilities in Brooklyn and Queens, bringing in top pathologists from across the country and establishing new offices in Staten Island and the Bronx to better serve those boroughs. Dr. Hirsch created and built the largest public DNA laboratory in the country, apowerful tool allowing scientists to provide accurate, unbiased, and independent results to the criminal justice community andlater enabled the office to assume the herculean task of identifying the remains of the victims of the 9/11 attacks.
“Dr. Hirsch was a visionary leader whose work earned him world-renown and helped make New York City a global leader in the field,” said Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. “Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Dr. Hirsch pledged that ‘We will do whatever it takes, for as long as it takes, to identify every victim of this tragedy,’ and he worked tirelessly to bring some comfort to the families of those lost. We are deeply grateful for his many years of outstanding service and he leaves a legacy that will serve our city well for many years to come.”
“As Dr. Charles Hirsch retires, he leaves behind a proud legacy of innovative practice, forward looking advances and a commitment to integrity,” said Deputy Mayor Gibbs. “Always conscious that the Medical Examiner’s Office touched people’s lives at their most vulnerable times, Dr. Hirsch was renowned in the field for his integrity and the trust that criminal justice professionals placed in his office.”
As Professor and Chairman of Forensic Medicine at New York University Medical School, his dual roles enabled him to build the most sought-after training program for forensic pathology fellows in the nation, with a waiting list often exceeding four years. He has personally trained scores of forensic pathologists, including 15 who have been appointed the Chief Medical Examiners for states or major cities.
His creation of the largest public DNA laboratory in the country led to the offices ongoing efforts to identify the remains of the victims of the 9/11 attacks. Dr. Hirsch was injured in the attack when he responded to the scene and was caught in the collapse of the South Tower of the World Trade Center, but after being pulled from the rubble by a member of the FDNY he returned to his office with broken ribs and sutured cuts and led the agency’s staff through the recovery of remains and the identification process, which continues to this day. Shortly after, he pledged to the victim’s families that “We will do whatever it takes, for as long as it takes, to identify every victim of this tragedy.”
Renowned in the field for his integrity and refusal to be swayed by outside influence, he is quoted often by a generation of pathologists for his wit and wisdom, codifying his ideals in pithy statements; among them: “Medical Examiners are not law enforcement officials. Our allegiance is to the criminal justice system and to civil rights.”
As the author of numerous texts, research studies and articles in medical journals, his colleagues anticipate that the renowned teacher will continue to publish and hope that he may consolidate his life’s work for the next generation.
Dr. Hirsch received his undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois with distinction. He then attended the University Of Illinois College Of Medicine in Chicago where he was elected to the American Osteopathic Association. He trained in forensic pathology and neuropathology in the Baltimore Medical Examiner’s Office.